Skip to Content

Magee-Womens Research Institute Receives $5.1M from R.K. Mellon Foundation

September 12, 2019

Infant mortality, defined as death occurring within the first year of life, claimed the lives of 77 infants in Allegheny County in 2017 — a rate 5% higher than the national average according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s WONDER online database of public health statistics. Additionally, racial disparities — or inequalities in mortality rates for minorities — are over 5 times higher for black infants than white infants in Allegheny County.

Magee-Womens Research Institute (MWRI) and collaborative partners have received a $5.1 million grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation to fund the second phase of a $13 million project aimed at researching pregnancy health, infant mortality and morbidity, encouraging patient participation, and creating communication tools that may allow physicians to apply current research on infant mortality to their patients. 

“Our goal is to see babies live, grow and develop through their first year of life and thrive throughout their lifetime,” said Yoel Sadovsky, MD, executive director of MWRI and professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and lead investigator of the pregnancy and infant mortality project. “This grant will help us continue our work to fight infant mortality and other adverse pregnancy outcomes that drastically impact the lives of mothers and families.”

Organizations partnering in this project include: 

  • Tsui Lab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania will deploy the developed algorithm to predict individual risks in real time; 
  • RAND Corporation will develop models to tailor recommended interventions to each woman based on her specific risk and will contribute to an evaluation of the program’s implementation, outcomes and impact;
  • Stanford University will pilot one of the apps in conjunction with the neonatal intensive care units at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital and UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, enabling physicians to connect patients with appropriate and effective interventions when necessary; and, 
  • The Institute for Systems Biology is another partner playing an essential role in contributing to this research.

“Research advances continue to be made, yet infant mortality is still a major problem in the United States. The reason these rates are so much higher here than in other industrialized countries can’t be linked to one single issue,” explained Michael Annichine, chief executive officer of MWRI. “As the largest research institute in the nation dedicated to women’s and infants’ health, the Magee-Womens Research Institute has the strongest potential to combat the high rates of infant mortality. We want to thank the Richard King Mellon Foundation for this important funding that enables our partnerships and research teams to expand upon their previous work.” 

Phase 1 of this work, jointly led by Tsui Lab and RAND, created a unique integrated database, developed cutting-edge methods to predict infant mortality and preterm deliveries, and assessed the causal effects of interventions in order to help providers offer personalized solutions to reduce the risk of infant mortality.

A portion of the grant funds will be dedicated to expanding the Magee Obstetrical Maternal Infant Database (MOMI), an electronic database of more than 190,000 births at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital. Researchers use MOMI to address the causes and prevention of premature birth; the effectiveness and safety of medication use during pregnancy; the effects of pregnancy on women’s heart health later in life; the effectiveness of vaccines and their impact on maternal and infant immunity; and the use of opioids and other substances during pregnancy and the downstream effects on future generations. 

Additionally, the grant will help MWRI and its collaborative partners to develop new real-time information technology infrastructure, implement and expand technologies that will allow clinicians to estimate, communicate and intervene when there is a higher risk of infant mortality or morbidity. The project will integrate the “Infant Mortality Prediction System with Intervention” network, which is comprised of risk identification and intervention recommendation tools and two mobile phone apps designed to combat prematurity and infant mortality risks by engaging pregnant and postpartum women. Together, the tools developed will help identify infant mortality risk earlier, and deploy risk mitigation strategies, which were created in Phase I of the project